NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
6th start for Will Levis
Will Levis wasn't the team's starting quarterback when the Titans faced the Colts in Week 5. Still, he prepared like the starter, and did his homework. On Sunday, he'll make his sixth NFL start against a team he's gotten familiar with. Levis remains undefeated at Nissan Stadium – he's 2-0 with a 110.5 passer rating, a 64.9 completion percentage, and a 4-0 pass TD-INT at home, and 0-3 with a 74.8 rating, a 56.8% and a 2-2 TD-INT on the road. DeAndre Hopkins has caught four of the six TDs thrown by Levis. Can Levis, who has been slowed by an ankle injury in recent weeks, keep the team's winning ways at home going on Sunday?
Protect the QB
The Titans are going to need to protect Levis against a Colts defense that's fast, and swarming, with defensive linemen DeForest Buckner (5 sacks), Samson Ebukam (6 sacks), Kwity Paye (5.5 sacks) and outside backer Dayo Odeyingbo (6.5 sacks) leading the way. A week ago, rookie Jaelyn Duncan stepped up and played well at left tackle, and across the board protection was better. But the challenge is greater this Sunday against an Indy team with 36 sacks. Per Next Gen Stats, the Colts have a blitz rate of just 19.1 (2nd lowest in the NFL). Levis vs no blitz this year: 64.4 completion percentage, 747 pass yards, 4-2 pass TD-INT, and a 95.9 rating.
Stop the Run
The Titans were embarrassed in the first matchup in Indianapolis, as the Colts ran for 193 yards in a 23-16 win. Running back Zack Moss ran for 165 yards in that game, with 7.2-yard average, and he busted loose for a 56-yard touchdown run. Jonathan Taylor made his 2023 debut vs the Titans in Week 5, and he built momentum after that game. Taylor won't play this Sunday, but the Colts are still a force to be reckoned with running the ball. Titans defenders remember that game well, and they've vowed to be better. It will take attitude, execution and better tackling to give the team better results in the rematch. The Titans better not sleep on Colts QB Gardner Minshew II either.
Titans running back Derrick Henry continues to get a good share of the team's workload, even if his production has cooled compared to recent years. Henry has accounted for 42.9 percent of the team's touches in 2023 (3rd highest in NFL), although his 67.2 rush yards per game in 2023 is the fewest since 2018. Henry is coming off a 76-yard, two touchdown game against the Panthers that left him upset – he felt he should've been better. Henry has rushed for 100-plus yards in 10 of his last 12 AFC South rematches. However, the two contests in which he did not do so were against Indianapolis.
Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance against the Panthers, when he played a big role by pinning one punt after another deep in Panthers territory. Stonehouse is averaging a whopping 52.9 yards a punt, with a 44.8-yard net. Titans HC Mike Vrabel applauded the play of his special teams this past week, and in a division game against the Colts, the Titans need to be good here across the board, in the kicking game and on coverage teams.
Importance on Week 13
The Titans aren't dead yet in the playoff race, but it's one game at a time around here. The Titans are underdogs for the 10th time in 12 games on Sunday, although the line is down to just Indianapolis minus-one. Since 1990, teams that started a season 5-7 have made the playoffs 6.4% (10/156) of the time, won the division 1.9% (3/156) of the time and won the Super Bowl 0.0% (0/156) of the time. The percentages for teams that started 4-8: 1.8% (2/114) for playoffs, 1.8% (2/114) for division and 0.0% (0/114) for Super Bowl.